I don't make a habit of posting reviews two weeks in a row, but this week I'm making an exception for what is frankly the most disappointing book I have read in a very long time. To start, let me say that this book was disappointing, not because it was badly written (although it was that) but rather because it had amazing potential that it simply failed to live up to.
With that in mind, I will try to offer as unbiased a review as I can.
Sovereign by Jeff Hirsch is, in sum, a survival book in space. Kid crash-lands on an alien planet when his parents' ship is damaged and they are forced to eject him and flee to do repairs on their vessel. To start, don't ask why they couldn't just keep him with them. Suspension of disbelief and all that - after all, what fun is a survival book if the kid has to deal with his parents all the time? Like, ew. </sarcasm>
Right. Unbiased. *ahem* Let me try that again.
So ,we have Hatchet in space. Or maybe more accurately The Sign of the Beaver, since he meets (completely unexpected) intelligent life? Anyway, the goal of the book is pretty obvious from the beginning - watch this boy get over himself and become independent and strong and stuff.
On the surface, this sounds like a fun and possibly very deeply moving story, exploring themes of dependence, loneliness, growing up, grief, exploration, fear, and other things more specific to being in space. I picked it up for that reason - it looked like it had a lot of potential.
There were, unfortunately, a few key mistakes that prevented this book from unlocking that potential. (If you follow me on Goodreads, you can skip this part, as it's part of my GR review for this book.)
Mistake #1: The author either assumed his readers were too slow to catch the hints dropped the first, second or third times, OR the author assumed that dragging out the "reveal" for any of several hints when the readers already know what's coming is somehow interesting. Tension is good, but it needs to be done with a light hand. (Even assuming the book's target audience is the same age as the protagonist - don't assume your readers are unobservant.)
Mistake #2: The protagonist is not a person I would want to spend time with. Micah Cole is child that makes himself miserable and then blames everyone else, and who wallows in self-pity and misdirected anger rather than being proactive.
Mistake #3: This is a hypothesis, as I have no real evidence - but I would guess that the author did not keep notes concerning facts/details revealed in-story. The character's age and the timeline of his flashbacks, for example, are confusing at best. He's 12 in the first chapter, 14 later on, and 13 at the end.
Mistake #4: Lack of research/experience. Some key details in the protagonist's physical accomplishments and other behaviors are not logical from the perspective of someone who has these experiences or has done research.
<rant>The protagonist is supposed to be from Oregon. Anyone from Oregon that can make a direct comparison between alien trees and giant redwoods or sequoias should know that a tree as big around as a house will not have branches low enough that a 12-14yo kid can jump and catch the lowest one, let alone climb the tree. A 12-14yo kid who has not been in intensive training will not be able to lift himself with arm-strength alone, turn in mid-air, and buckle himself into a harness while G-forces are actively dragging him away from his seat. A 15 lb isolation suit that would drown the wearer while worn properly will not become somehow less cumbersome when packed in a backpack that is already full of other supplies; swimming with a 30 lb backpack on your back in a current strong enough to damage a vessel intended for atmosphere reentry is not a believable feat for any normal human, let alone a child not yet in his full growth. </rant>
Some of this might be handwaved because it's an alien planet. I'm okay with that, but don't leave out the differences between our world and that one and plow ahead with things that aren't logically possible here.
Mistake #5: There was a lot of emphasis placed on the main character's introspection, to the point where the super cool telepathic alien comes across as flat as a cardboard cutout. The weird animal that was hunting him had more personality.
Mistake #6: This might be a little too nitpicky of me, but I feel the need to set it down in writing anyway. There is a scene where Micah literally strips the flesh off his arm and hand, "just like taking off a glove." I was physically ill at just reading the description, but Micah seemed completely unaffected. I accept that there was a telepathic alien messing with his brain, but his complete lack of shock, disgust, horror, fear, and/or panic was so far removed from my reaction that I lost all connection with him as a character.
With all of this in mind, I'm giving this book 1 star out of 5 for poor planning, sub-par writing, and lack of respect for the reader. This book could have been amazing and impactful. Instead, it reads like bad Hatchet (in space) fanfiction.
All of that aside, I will say that I think the ending was handled exceptionally well. There is a tendency for writers (myself included) to shoehorn in a scene at the end that "drives the point home" and makes sure that my specific meaning is so perfectly clear that no one can claim death of the author in my presence. *gets down off of soap box* But these scenes rarely add anything worthwhile to the story, and often leave a bad taste in the reader's proverbial mouth.
Instead, Mr. Hirsch ended with a brief conversation, apologies, and the promise of improvement in the future. It was well done, and I wish more of the book had been like that moment.
That's all for this week. Next week I'll post something a little less... long-winded. XD
Until then, stay awesome, Inklings.